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Opinion

Common cause

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Thanks to the stealthy way proponents are stampeding the nation into Charter change, diverse groups are finding common cause to oppose the Marcos 2.0 administration.

Among the most formidable opponents are all 24 members of the Senate, whose chamber faces the threat of being marginalized or even eliminated through Cha-cha.

Then there’s former president Rodrigo Duterte, still as astonishingly popular among Filipinos as Donald Trump is to the Americans. Equally popular, despite a significant drop in her latest survey ratings, is Duterte’s daughter, Vice President Sara, plus their entire clan and their solid support base in Mindanao as well as large swaths of the Visayas.

Progressive groups are also against Cha-cha, whether economic or political, seeing the further opening up of the economy to foreigners as a threat to domestic producers. These groups are leading mass protests commemorating the 38th anniversary of the people power revolt that toppled Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship in 1986, even if his son and namesake did not declare Feb. 25 a holiday.

It’s too bad because easing economic restrictions in the Charter could help entice foreign investors, although this is no silver bullet for all the ills that plague the business environment in the Philippines.

Some quarters in the national security sector are also said to be worried about opening up ownership of schools, mass media and advertising to foreigners, with their concern focused on China and its massive funds for investing overseas.

There are Filipinos who will welcome Harvard, Oxford and other top universities setting up branches in the Philippines. But within national security circles, there are reported grumblings that the Chinese already control TikTok and Zoom (apart from Mischief Reef and Panatag Shoal); do we also want Chinese propaganda in our mass media and advertising materials, and shaping young minds in our schools?

*      *      *

Retired luminaries of the Supreme Court, while not actively opposing Cha-cha, have told the Senate that legislation has already cured many of the provisions in the Charter that restrict foreign ownership of businesses even in several critical sectors.

Why, even those APO fraternity boys in the University of the Philippines picked the anti-Cha-cha cause for their principal message as they marched naked around the Diliman campus at last week’s annual Oblation Run.

Unfazed, members of the House of Representatives, widely suspected to be working for self-serving political rather than economic changes in the 1987 Constitution, filed last Monday Resolution of Both Houses No. 7.

RBH 7, its principal authors explained, was nearly identical to RBH 6, which senators are deliberating on to amend three specific economic provisions in the Constitution.

It’s noteworthy that RBH 7 was filed two days after Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri urged alumni of the Philippine Military Academy, alma mater of all the coup plotters in this country, to defend the Constitution.

Congressmen made no secret of their aim of speeding up Charter change through RBH 7. How they intend to speed it up through their latest resolution bears watching. Senators have yet to discuss new rules for constituting a “Senate assembly” to discuss the proposed economic reforms.

On the same day that RBH 7 was filed, President Marcos’ ate, Sen. Imee Marcos, disclosed that about P10 billion of the last-minute insertions made by House members in the 2024 national budget was sourced from the pension funds of government workers, including military and other uniformed personnel.

*      *      *

Senator Imee, who must be seen by her cousin the Speaker as the Wicked Witch of the West, is continuing her probe into the Ayuda para sa Kapos ang Kita Program.

AKAP is a cash dole-out for the “near poor,” to be administered by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, whose officials said they never asked for it, and it was not part of the NEP or national expenditure program prepared for the DSWD.

Senator Imee, who defended the DSWD budget at the Senate, said AKAP was a last-minute insertion by congressmen in the 2024 General Appropriations Act that was not properly discussed during the bicameral conference.

Congressmen have denied that AKAP is being used to finance a continuing signature drive for a people’s initiative to amend the Constitution and emasculate the Senate. Senators seem unconvinced, especially since the person behind the signature drive has said nothing can stop it.

The Commission on Elections has rolled out forms for withdrawing the signatures for the people’s initiative. But a space allotted for explaining the reason for the withdrawal, which the Comelec chief has said is optional, may be spooking people. In case ayuda was given in exchange for one’s signature for the PI, who would admit it?

Yesterday, President Marcos effectively took full responsibility for the Cha-cha push. He told Congress, a supposedly independent and co-equal branch, to do economic Cha-cha “without any fuss,” describing the fuss as “really a storm in a teacup.”

Public distrust has always been the biggest hurdle of Cha-cha proponents. The way the latest initiative is unfolding, the trust deficit is at its worst, and is creating a rallying point for non-administration forces.

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